Lost: Two confessions and a Mystery Box

Confession #1: I’m hooked on Lost. I never thought this would be me, eagerly awaiting each Tuesday, joining in discussions following each episode, mulling over key lines, speculating, wondering what might happen next. I’m hooked, and I’m loving it. But I must confess one other thing: I haven’t always been hooked. No, I’m a fair-weather fan, that guy that chooses to cheer for the winning team in the closing minutes of a game. You see, I only started watching Lost this season. I watched the beginning-of-season recap to get caught up (I’m trying to watch previous seasons, but no promises). So all authentic Lost junkies, thank you for accepting me, I am honored to be part of the tribe.

While I am a recent convert, I was imspired by Lost, and its creator J.J. Abrams, when I watched his talk at TED a couple years ago. His talk changed how I do communication and storytelling. Watch below or on the TED website.

“It represents infinite possibility; it represents hope; it represents potential.”

In this talk, J.J. Abrams introduces us to Tannen’s Magic Mystery Box, which he has not opened in the decades he’s owned it, and tells us what makes great stories tick: mystery. Thinking back, so many great movies, books and stories captivate us because we’re not told everything, but are left wondering about aspects of the story, sometimes until the very end. I recently watched Book of Eli, which holds several mysteries until the very end. When the mysteries were eventually solved, my mind reeled, forced to re-interpret much of the movie in light of new-found information about the main character. (And I must say, Abrams’ hint at the ultimate mystery box, in minute 13 of his talk, has had me rethinking all movies and stories in general).

I was talking with a couple friends the other day, and was surprised to find that some people don’t find mystery enjoyable. They’d rather not be held in suspense. We talked about how the length of time in which you’re kept in suspense is a large factor, some people give up when secrets aren’t disclosed quickly enough. Then there are some people who can enjoy the build-up of mystery for years (even up to 6 years, apparently…).

“Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.”

As storytellers (which, if you’re breathing, is you), we can use the power of mystery to engage our audiences. Even as a training program leader, I’ve found that using mystery while making announcements (usually not the most captivating part of anyone’s day) is a great way to keep my students’ attention.

Have you watched/read/heard any stories recently that use the “mystery box” to keep you interested? How can you use the “mystery box” to make your communication and storytelling more effective?

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